If you have an anxiety disorder, you already know why the title says it’s a battle, and why we need tools to fight it. If you don’t have an anxiety disorder, you may not understand, so I’ll explain.
You know that voice of doubt you occasionally get? Or that feeling of anxiousness right before you go on a date, or compete in an event you’ve been preparing for? Those are the normal feelings of anxiety that pretty much everyone feels and has to overcome at some point in their lives.
Now, try to imagine that feeling- that you experience just temporarily- magnified x10 and uncontrollable- even when there isn’t anything to be anxious about. You can be in the safest place in the world, yet still be feeling like it’s all about to fall apart. Imagine a voice in your head that constantly screams “You aren’t thinking of everything. You’re missing something and it’s going to make the entire world crumble around you. If you don’t choose the right thing for dinner, you and everyone you love, will suffer. If you don’t get everything done perfectly, everything will be ruined……” This is what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder.
Although it does seem to be a bit of a “trend” nowadays to say you have one, anxiety disorders are a very real mental health issue that keep millions of people from being able to live a “normal” life.They go far beyond the usual anxious feelings we all get when we’re experiencing new, or challenging, things in life. When you have an anxiety disorder, you stress and worry about everything- even the meaningless things others wouldn’t give a second thought to.
I didn’t recognize that I had an anxiety disorder until I was 18, so I spent my twenties learning to cope with it. It wasn’t easy. Back then, my internal dialogue was my worst enemy. It would scream at me to question everyone and everything. If I didn’t hear from a friend, a voice was yelling “SOMETHING’S WRONG. FIND THEM. HELP THEM.” My anxiety manifested in this way because a very close friend was murdered when he was only 17. So, anxiety (coupled with PTSD) told me that the same was going to happen to everyone I loved if I didn’t know where they were at all times. It was exhausting, and I went to such crazy lengths to try to always make sure everyone was safe. I was obsessive, and it resulted in me coming off as controlling. I was scared. I was so scared that it controlled me. I absolutely couldn’t allow the same thing to happen to someone else that I loved. I wasn’t going to let it. While much of this feeling was caused by the PTSD, the anxiety is what wouldn’t allow me to process through it and recognize when people were perfectly safe.
It took a long time for me to recognize and cope with the problems my anxiety caused, but once I realized all of them, somewhere at the end of my 20’s and on into my 30’s, I worked on it, but it just got worse as my first child got old enough to not be at home all the time.
Even though my chronic illnesses meant there were many times I couldn’t be around, I was always confident that he was safe with his grandparents. Once he was old enough to go off with friends- my anxiety went into overdrive, and I had to go through the conscious process of coping with it again.
You may be thinking “everyone worries about their kids,” and yes, it is true that we can be naturally over-protective of our offspring, but most people also cope with it reasonably (or at least in a way we expect parents to in that situation.) When anxiety is involved, it can be an overwhelming, irrational, obsessive fear that leads to behavior that we normally wouldn’t see as reasonable. Especially if you have high-functioning anxiety, like me, you can really get yourself into complicated messes all while trying to do what your anxiety tells you is necessary.
During the years that I was figuring out how to manage my anxiety (and all the other things wrong with me,) it affected all aspects of my life. It mostly manifested as constant stress and worry that I coped with by biting my nails, smoking cigarettes, and picking at my face, with panic attacks randomly. It affected my relationships negatively because I would overreact to things I wouldn’t have, had the anxiety not been in my head, screaming at me to fix it all before anything bad could happen. People misinterpreted that fear for their wellbeing as me being controlling, or a “know-it-all.” The “know-it-all” part came from obsessive research on any and all things that could affect the people I cared about.
That same part of me that researched anything that could affect my friends, also researched anxiety disorders. I started to get into a long explanation here about my research leading me to realizing my triggers, the root cause of my anxiety, and a whole bunch of other complicated psychology stuff, but that takes me kind of far off topic because it’s a long, complicated explanation. I promise to write it eventually.
In my case, learning everything I could about anxiety gave me an arsenal to fight it, and I started methodically figuring out what things actually helped me get a handle on it. What I found was that there wasn’t any one thing that “fixes” my anxiety, and the only way to manage it was to accept that it WILL affect me, so I have to be prepared to deal with it when it tries to take over. Below, I’ve listed the different techniques I use to manage my anxiety. Some have a link to further details where I’ve already written a piece on that specific technique, others link to outside resources, but they are all helpful and informative.
1. Create a Daily Anxiety Management Routine
It’s important to create a daily routine that you do, no matter what is happening. The most effective way, for me, is to do my routine at about the same time everyday. When I worked, I always used my lunch hour, because by that time, I was stressed enough that I needed to do something to make it through the rest of the day.
I used to work in a hair salon, so it was very important to manage my anxiety so I could interact with clients. It wasn’t easy, but I worked through it. Now that I write from home, I usually begin my days with my routine so that I can get focused for the day. For the full routine, you can read my updated article here:
In addition to using my daily routine, I also have multiple grounding techniques I use. Sometimes I can get away with only using one, and some days, I have to use every one of them to get through a situation. These are the different methods I use:
2. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
I like this one because it can be done anywhere at any time, so I find it useful. I also based my Anxiety Cards partially on this method. The basic idea is find 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can taste. The process of going through that helps your brain reset and gain focus. For more on this technique, you can visit the University of Rochester Medical Center’s site.
3. Anxiety Cards
My Anxiety Cards have become my “go-to” for times of high anxiety and panic attacks because they are a technique that work well for me. I created them years ago for myself, then made some for my son to use. Others started asking for them, so now I release an updated version every other month so they continue working for everyone. They are loosely based on the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. You can find all versions of them on my Anxiety Card page by clicking/tapping here:
I created them years ago for myself, then made some for my son to use. Others started asking for them, so now I release an updated version every other month so they continue working for everyone. They are loosely based on the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. You can find all versions of them on my Anxiety Card page by clicking/tapping here:
Distractions are some of the most useful tools in your arsenal. There are so many ways to distract yourself when you’re feeling anxious that I wrote an article about using distractions as coping methods for anxiety, pain, and addiction cravings. You can read that article by clicking on the image below (or beside,) this text.
In addition to the distractions I list in that post, I have found a few social media accounts that I enjoy looking at if I’m having a particularly rough day. They are all related to Anxiety or general mental health. These are just a few of the Instagram accounts I follow. You can find so many more just by searching the #anxiety #anxietyrelief #anxietyawareness #mentalhealth hashtags. I can sometimes get distracted for quite awhile by just looking at the profile grids.
I also have a Written by Dida presence on all of these social platforms, and Pinterest, that you can follow for updates to my site, graphics, and resources I share from others. In addition to Instagram, Twitter has a huge mental health community you can follow for plenty of information and support. I suggest searching for accounts using the terms “anxiety” & “mental health.”
There are also plenty of mental health blogs out there that are filled with more personal stories, techniques to help you manage anxiety and other mental health issues like PTSD, depression, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, and pretty much any other condition there is. Many of these people have written books about their experiences that you can find when searching, if you’d rather have something physical to read. I was going to make some suggestions, but I found several articles of suggestions with a quick search, so plenty of people have already covered it.
**A note on social media and anxiety: Yes, you can make your anxiety worse by being on social media, but you can also find support, information, and ways to manage that you may not have thought of. The key is recognizing when it’s too much, and also recognizing what parts of social media contribute to your anxiety. Once you figure that out, you can avoid those things and use the helpful ones. Sometimes, you need to step away from everything and focus on breathing, meditation, and other methods of managing your anxiety.
5. The Logic Challenge (for Health Anxiety)
**Note: I AM NOT a medical professional. If you really believe you are having a health issue, you need to be evaluated by a medical professional. These techniques are to help manage anxiety in conjunction with getting professional treatment, so always discuss things with your doctor, and see if they are appropriate for you to use.
Since I have multiple chronic illnesses, I’ve had plenty of high anxiety times, and many panic attacks, over my health. Unfortunately, having anxiety on top of the health issues also creates the problem of my anxiety trying to tell me that something is worse than it really is. It can even try to convince me so much that I start seeing physical symptoms. To combat my health anxiety, I use the Logic Challenge.
To use the logic challenge, you do need information. Now, I generally advise against too much googling because most people can find things that convince them of literally anything, but in this case, some research is necessary. When researching, you should only be using credentialed medical sites like the National Institute of Health, WebMD, and others that can be verified and are backed by long-standing research. You cannot go looking at rare instances and articles that haven’t been vetted for accuracy, or are based on incomplete research. This prevents you from coming across random cases of special circumstances that don’t apply to most people and just scare you.
**A note for chronically ill patients: Using this technique can be especially challenging for us. You have to compare based ONLY on what is your normal state is, not based on a healthy state. Take into account what symptoms your conditions are causing, and look into reasonable causes for whatever you’re experiencing that is causing the anxiety.
The logic challenge consists of comparing your actual risk factors and symptoms against the official risk factors and symptoms– with the risk factors being the key. The most effective way is done on paper- because the physical act of writing the risk factors and symptoms down, and visually comparing them, is important to getting your brain to reset and focus.
Since I do have medical conditions, I always have symptoms, so I have to really evaluate them and determine whether they are any different than the norm. Once I evaluate my symptoms and determine what I think may be happening, then I look at the risk factors for the real help. If you don’t have enough for it to be considered the “majority” of them, you have to make yourself acknowledge that the condition is unlikely. Most conditions will have risk factors that have more bearing than others, so you have to take even that into consideration.
When I first started doing this I had to keep writing down things like “This is just anxiety. I don’t have enough risk factors and the symptoms can be attributed to other things.” I would also rewrite the official risks and my own. The act of writing it out helped me tremendously.
If the real risk factors and my own actually lined up, I then either made an appointment with the doctor or went to the ER if it was an emergency. At the same time I do the logic challenge, I also use some of the other grounding techniques I described above. Whatever it takes to get me through it.
6. Yoga, Meditation, Breathing, & Essential Oils
Yes, you’ve probably heard all about breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, & yoga, but many write it off as something that can’t help them. There are several studies that show the benefits of using yoga and meditation to manage anxiety. Here are a couple of sites you can go to for more information because I am definitely not an expert on yoga. I do believe it can be extremely beneficial, as can martial arts, and other physical activities that involve breathing techniques and types of meditation.
Essential oils have also worked wonders for many people. I am very sensitive to smells, so I can only use this technique every once in awhile, but it can help very quickly when I can. Here are a couple of articles about using oils for calming anxiety:
There is absolutely no shame in using medication to manage your anxiety if you just can’t get it under control without it. I have been on anti-depressants and nerve medication for my anxiety. They helped for awhile, but the side effects were eventually too much for me, and I also learned ways to manage it without the meds. It took me several years to do it, so don’t think it was just me deciding to give them up one day. I had to do a lot of learning about myself and working on personal growth. Some medications they use to help manage anxiety are listed below with links to information about each. The key to using medication is to use the smallest dosage possible to control your Anxiety. If your Anxiety is disrupting your life enough, tell your doctor you want to take a conservative approach to using medication and ask them about the following:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These stop the nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin and usually take 2-6 weeks to work. These include drugs like Prozac and Zoloft. For more on these and the following types of medications, there is a link at the end of the list.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These work by reducing the brain’s reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are also sometimes given to treat chronic pain and can take 2-6 weeks to work. Cymbalta is an example of this type.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): An older class of drugs that are used if the SSRI’s & SNRI’s aren’t working to manage anxiety. They have more aide effects than the others, but can still bring relief. Elavil is in this class of medication.
- Benzodiazepines: These are usually fast-acting, sedative drugs that can be taken on as needed basis. They can be addictive, so using them continuously can present a problem. They’re usually prescribed alongside one of the other types of medications for anxiety. Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium are all in this class of drugs.
- Other: Doctors sometimes use medications that are intended for other conditions for Anxiety. These can include beta blockers to lower blood pressure and even anti-histamines like Vistaril (this is what I had to use during pregnancy.) For more on all medications for Anxiety, I encourage you to visit the link below.
8. Ways To Relieve Aggression
I found that much of my anxiety was worsened whenever I had any type of anger or aggression going on. It could be as simple as just not being able to feel settled, or full-on violent rage. I realized I had to find ways of handling those feelings without inappropriate behavior. I used a few different methods to deal with this apsect of Anxiety. (Full article all on aggression relieving techniques coming soon!)
**Tearing paper: I know it sounds really weird, but I was able to use this simple method during classes to help keep my anxiety from invading my thoughts so I could learn. I have to confess that some teachers weren’t the happiest about it, probably because they figured my little pieces of paper would end up all over the place, but it worked for me. I would sit quietly and fold a piece of paper lengthwise into strips, then tear off pieces the whole time. You can probably use a fidget spinner to mimic the same concept these days.
**As I got older, and admittedly, a bit wilder, I moved on to other things like breaking glass bottles on brick walls, mosh pits, and in general, any extreme anything ( It was late 90’s, early 2000’s- you had to have been there,) which probably weren’t the healthiest of ways to release aggression, but it got me through. The concept is still useful though, when put into action appropriately. There are businesses where you can destroy things, throw axes, shoot guns, and other physical ways to get rid of your stress. Some psychologists don’t agree with using these methods to relieve stress, and they probably aren’t for everyone, but they can be helpful for some.
**There are, of course, always the more traditional ways of relieving aggression like getting a massage, or steaming in a sauna. Some people even consider getting their hair and nails done a relaxing experience. Many people can also use sex for the relief of stress or aggression, but use caution. Promiscuity is NOT a healthy way to cope with anxiety, but a healthy sex life can bring relief when practiced safely. You have to use good judgement when deciding which methods will be best for you.
In addition to these techniques, and the Written by Dida resources I’ve already went over, I also have a basic article with simple tips to manage anxiety and a resource page with these techniques and “Dida-isms.” They are graphics with quotes from my stories, research, or my head, that are inspirational, funny, informative, or just plain true that are meant to be shared on social media. You can find them by tapping/clicking on the image to the left. You can read “Ten Tips To Manage Anxiety” by using the image below.
This is the “Dida-ism” that came from that article:
I have had to use all of these techniques, and even others, over the years to manage my anxiety. I can now usually go through a few fairly quickly to get my anxiety under control. I just keep cycling through them until something clicks and I can relax. The first thing I try doesn’t always help. Sometimes, neither do the 2nd or 3rd things I try, but I just keep pushing until something clicks. I really hope one, or more of these methods can be of use to you. Anxiety can make your life feel like it isn’t your own because it controls you. Take the time to put these techniques into practice and get your life back.